31 July marks the feast day of Saint Ignatius Loyola (b.1491), the founder of the Society of Jesus (more commonly known as the Jesuits). In a breviary, I was interested to read a passage from the Acts of Saint Ignatius taken down by Luis Gonzalez, which describes the reading habits of the young saint:

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Reading Butler’s Lives of the Saints, I come across a passage on St Pambo, an Egyptian monk (c.390) thought to be a disciple of St Antony. I was struck by the following passage:

“His life was typical of the desert monks: hard manual labour, long fasts and physical penance, and sustained periods of prayer. Pambo was especially noted for his silence and a reluctance to speak any more than was necessary, seeing in control of the tongue a basic first step towards a deeper spirituality; he is said to have meditated on this verse from the Psalms for six months: ‘I will watch how I behave, and not let my tongue lead me into sin’ (Ps. 39:1). On the other hand, he had a broader outlook than many of his colleagues in the desert and did not believe their way of life was necessarily the best; he settled an argument between to monks as to which was more perfect, becoming a monk or staying in the world and doing works of mercy, by saying: ‘Before God both are perfect. There are other roads to perfection besides being a monk.'” (18 July, Butler’s Lives of the Saints)

I recently finished re-reading Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, one of my favourite books. Now, I am dipping into the multi-volume edition of his letters. All of the books are secondhand copies, and I am sure that some of them have their own stories to tell. My copy of the first volume once sat on the shelves of a branch of The New York Public Library at 455 Fifth Avenue in Mid-Manhattan.

The letters are collected according to theme. There’s a volume of correspondence covering Merton‘s close friendships; there’s one devoted to poetry, literature, and the vocation of writing; and yet another two that deal with religious experience. The fifth and final volume collects together his letters on “Times of Crisis”. I think I might start with that one.

The coronavirus has sparked a widespread cultural revaluation of writers who touched on themes of solitude in their work. Holland Carter takes a look at Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, and suggests that “there’s plenty to learn from standing still”. Source: The New York Times.

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I have just started a new role as a pastoral tutor at St David’s Catholic College in Cardiff. Over the last two years I have been looking for a secure full-time job that would allow me to draw on my teaching skills and experience, while also offering an opportunity to serve my local community in a direct and meaningful way. I am absolutely thrilled.

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“Evidently salvation is not to be found by increasing the comforts and pleasures of life, medical treatments, artificial teeth and hair, breathing exercises, massage, and so forth; […] It is impossible to remedy this by any amusements, comforts, or powders – it can only be remedied by a change of life.”

— Leo Tolstoy, ‘What then must we do?’ (trans. Aylmer Maude)

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Richard Brody on the final film of the late Agnès Varda, who died in March at the age of ninety:

“The sublime originality of the work and the life of Agnès Varda, who died in March, at the age of ninety, provides her last film, “Varda by Agnès” (screening October 9th and 10th), with both its subject and its form. It’s a personal journey through her career, centered on a series of public lectures, interviews, and conversations that mesh with clips from her work—museum installations and videos as well as movies—and with staged sequences that provide a theatrical context for her reminiscences and reflections. “Varda by Agnès” is a fitting valedictory work that, in its retrospective illuminations, nonetheless pushes Varda’s own aesthetic relentlessly forward: it’s an exemplary illustration of the very concept of the auteur, of the director as prime creator, an idea which—though she was never a critic and never advanced it in theory—her body of work exemplifies as strongly as anyone’s has done, now or ever.”

Source: The New Yorker.

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“Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a sense to that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous.”

— John Berger, The Shape of a Pocket